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Saha­ran Addax ante­lope faces immi­nent extinction

pub­lished 06 May 2016 | mod­i­fied 20 May 2017

Three Addax facing imminent extinctionRegional inse­cu­rity and oil indus­try activ­i­ties in the Sahara desert have pushed the Addax – a migra­tory species of desert-​adapted ante­lope — to the very knife-​edge of extinc­tion accord­ing to a recent sur­vey which found only three sur­viv­ing in the wild.

An exten­sive sur­vey in March across key Addax habi­tat iden­ti­fied just three remain­ing indi­vid­u­als, report experts from the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN); two of its Mem­bers work­ing in the region — the Sahara Con­ser­va­tion Fund (SCF) and the NGO Noé, as well as the Con­ven­tion on Migra­tory Species (CMS).

Con­ser­va­tion sta­tus and threats
National leg­is­la­tion in Niger fully pro­tects the Addax, mean­ing hunt­ing and the removal of live Addax for any rea­son are strictly for­bid­den. It is also pro­tected under the Con­ven­tion on Migra­tory Species (CMS) because his­tor­i­cal habi­tat extends into neigh­bour­ing Chad. The Addax (Addax naso­mac­u­la­tus) already in 2000 has been clas­si­fied as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

Yet the Addax has suf­fered mas­sive dis­tur­bance from oil instal­la­tions in Niger oper­ated by the China National Petro­leum Cor­po­ra­tion (CNPC) and asso­ci­ated encroach­ment of desert-​going lor­ries and bull­doz­ers. More­over, the assign­ment of mil­i­tary per­son­nel to pro­tect the oil indus­try means ille­gal hunt­ing by sol­diers has increased poach­ing lev­els con­sid­er­ably in its last remain­ing haven, and Africa’s largest pro­tected area, the Ter­mit & Tin-​Toumma National Nature Reserve in east­ern Niger.

We are wit­ness­ing in real time the extinc­tion of this iconic and once plen­ti­ful species

Dr. Jean-​Christophe Vié, Deputy Direc­tor of IUCN Global Species Programme »

With­out imme­di­ate inter­ven­tion,” added Vié, “the Addax will lose its bat­tle for sur­vival in the face of ille­gal, uncon­trolled poach­ing and the loss of its habi­tat. On behalf of all con­cerned par­ties we are rec­om­mend­ing a set of emer­gency mea­sures to help save the Addax from immi­nent extinction.”

Addax in dunes of Tin Toumma desertA group of Addax roam­ing in the dunes of Tin Toumma desert, Niger.
Image credit Thomas Rabeil /​SCF.

Nec­es­sary con­ser­va­tion mea­sures
The mea­sures pro­posed by the experts from the con­ser­va­tion groups ear­lier men­tioned include secur­ing the remain­ing pop­u­la­tion of Addax; stop­ping poach­ing by sol­diers and engag­ing with CNPC to coop­er­ate on pre­vent­ing the extinc­tion of the Addax; as well as rein­forc­ing the exist­ing pop­u­la­tion through the intro­duc­tion of captive-​bred stock.

The increase in poach­ing also comes against a back­drop of esca­lat­ing inse­cu­rity across the region. The col­lapse of Libya in 2011 saw an exo­dus of mili­tia with arms and 4×4 vehi­cles to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries into areas har­bour­ing impor­tant wildlife pop­u­la­tions. This also fuelled sub­se­quent insur­gen­cies in Mali and north­ern Nige­ria which have added to the insta­bil­ity, and the for­merly remote habi­tats of the Addax have become major cross­roads for the illicit trade of wildlife, arms, drugs and migrants.

Dr. Thomas Rabeil of the Sahara Con­ser­va­tion Fund says, “Those with com­mer­cial inter­ests in the desert could make impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to the pro­tec­tion of the Addax by coop­er­at­ing with the wildlife author­i­ties and by adopt­ing more sen­si­tive prac­tices, becom­ing stake­hold­ers in the man­age­ment of pro­tected areas and by shar­ing sight­ings of these elu­sive ani­mals with conservationists”.

An action plan
The sit­u­a­tion for the Addax has dete­ri­o­rated pre­cip­i­tously since 2010 when an ini­tial round of sur­veys esti­mated the pop­u­la­tion at 200 ani­mals. Since then, con­ser­va­tion­ists have designed a three-​pronged action plan to sta­bilise the sit­u­a­tion by locat­ing the remain­ing Addax and assess­ing their sta­tus. The plan aims:

1. to boost ongo­ing efforts to build the capac­ity of Niger’s wildlife ser­vice to pro­tect the Addax, and

2. to man­age the Ter­mit & Tin Toumma Reserve in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the local population;

3. the third, crit­i­cal part of the plan is to engage with the Niger author­i­ties and Chi­nese busi­ness inter­ests to bring poach­ing under con­trol and min­imise the impact of oil-​related activ­i­ties, espe­cially on prime Addax habitat.

Arnaud Greth, Chaiman of Noé, says, “Work­ing in coor­di­na­tion with the Min­istry of Envi­ron­ment, Noé has focused on rein­forc­ing the capac­i­ties of the Man­age­ment Unit in the Ter­mit & Tin Toumma Pro­tected Area and sup­port­ing Niger’s con­ser­va­tion pol­icy to strengthen Addax con­ser­va­tion in the field. But human pres­sures are increas­ing faster than we can adapt given the cur­rent level of resource sup­port for the Addax and the large dis­tri­b­u­tion range of the Addax in the largest ter­res­trial pro­tected area in Africa.”

Sur­vey results in 2016
Exten­sive aer­ial and ground sur­veys funded in part by IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species ini­tia­tive and Saint Louis Zoo and per­formed by SCF dur­ing March 2016 indi­cated the Addax was fac­ing immi­nent extinc­tion, how­ever. Using cutting-​edge Intel­li­gence Recon­nais­sance and Sur­veil­lance (IRS) tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing infra-​red cap­ture and ultra-​high res­o­lu­tion cam­eras capa­ble of dis­tin­guish­ing species from the air, the sur­vey cov­ered more than 3,200 km of tran­sects across key Addax habi­tat using a C-​208 Cessna Car­a­van air­craft hired from the Niger air force. Unfor­tu­nately, researchers could not iden­tify one ani­mal fol­low­ing 18 hours of flight time.

Mean­while the ground team searched over 700 km of prime Addax habi­tat and other areas where oth­ers had seen Addax tracks dur­ing the pre­vi­ous six months. After fol­low­ing some tracks for over 10 km, the ground team con­firmed sight­ings of one small group: three very ner­vous Addax individuals.

Sev­eral species of ante­lope once occurred in large num­bers across vast tracts of the Sahara desert and sur­round­ing Sahe­lian grass­lands. In the recent past, over a mil­lion Scimitar-​horned oryx ranged across North Africa from the Atlantic to the River Nile for exam­ple. How­ever, the species had dis­ap­peared from the wild by the 1990s because of uncon­trolled hunt­ing and loss of habi­tat, but a rewil­d­ing effort of cap­tive bred indi­vid­u­als is ongo­ing in Chad. Now one more of its close rel­a­tives – the iconic Addax — is per­ilously close to shar­ing the same fate of becom­ing extinct in the wild.

(Source: Save Our Species press release, 06.05.2016)

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